Pac-12: Mike Stoops

Pac-12, nation now fret Haden's next hire

September, 30, 2013
There is something undeniably reprehensible about dancing on the grave of a fallen coach. The celebration of a person's perceived failure at his life's work is unseemly. We all know big-time college coaches are big boys who are paid well. We all know that now-terminated USC coach Lane Kiffin brought on much of the ill will he received by how he conducted himself.

Still, the nationwide cackling over Kiffin getting fired in the early morning hours Sunday doesn't represent a high moment in our sports culture.

This grab for measured compassion is made here, however, because of a cold and unfortunate reality that will seem like another potshot at Kiffin. Outside of the Kiffin household, the folks most unhappy about his getting pink-slipped are coaches, administrators and fans of the other 11 Pac-12 teams. And probably some fans of other national powers who have moved on from chortling about Kiffin's fate to asking the most important question.

[+] EnlargeKiffin
Kyle Terada/USA TODAY SportsPac-12 teams knew what they were getting with Lane Kiffin on the USC sideline. Now the sleeping giant has the potential to wake up.
What if USC now hires its Nick Saban? Or, to localize it: Pete Carroll, take two?

Because the right coach at USC competes for national titles on a regular basis. The tradition is there. The facilities, once below standard, are vastly improved. The rich recruiting territory is there. And the ability to ante up big checks for an A-list coach and his staff is there.

Further, the next coach won't be freighted with the ready-made and mostly legitimate excuse Kiffin made when things went wrong on the field: NCAA-mandated scholarship reductions that made the USC roster thinner than those of their opponents. Those end after the 2014 recruiting class and season. The next coach can make the program whole in 2015, his second season.

USC, with 85 scholarships and the right coach, will immediately challenge Oregon and Stanford atop the Pac-12, and Alabama, LSU and Ohio State, etc., for national supremacy.

That's why the other Pac-12 schools are mourning Kiffin's departure. While he was tough to compete with on the recruiting trail -- his clear strength -- other schools were hoping that Kiffin would become the Trojans' "Meander Coach." That's the sort of coach rival teams want to stay atop a college football superpower, such as USC.

A Meander Coach is a coach who does just enough to hang on for several years but falls short of program standards. While not a complete disaster, he allows a program to slip a few notches in the conference and national pecking order. Good examples of this would be Bob Davie at Notre Dame, Ray Goff at Georgia and Earle Bruce at Ohio State.

A Meander 2013 season for USC under Kiffin would have been 9-4 in a 13-game schedule. Kiffin probably would have coached the Trojans in 2014 with that record, particularly if it included a win over Notre Dame or UCLA. But athletic director Pat Haden had seen enough through a 3-2 start, capped by a humiliating 62-41 loss at Arizona State on Saturday, to understand that barely good enough was not even going to happen. So he made his move.

Now the hope around the Pac-12 and the nation is that Haden gets his coaching pick wrong. Haden, a former USC and NFL quarterback and Rhodes scholar, is extremely bright and knowledgeable about football, but the odds are pretty good he will get it wrong. After all, to get from John McKay and John Robinson to Carroll, USC had to go through Ted Tollner, Larry Smith and Paul Hackett. Just as Alabama had to go through Mike DuBose, Dennis Franchione and Mike Shula to get to Saban. Notre Dame and Tennessee also can teach lessons about superpowers struggling to find the right guy.

Former AD Mike Garrett's hiring of Carroll? Complete luck. It was a desperation move after Garrett was turned down by Dennis Erickson, Mike Bellotti and Mike Riley. The Carroll hiring also was widely panned when it was announced. He was seen as a slightly goofy chatterbox and washed-out NFL coach. Perceptions changed, but only because the wrong hire turned out to be right.

One benefit Haden has bought himself with a midseason termination is time. While plenty of other teams are going to fire their head coaches, Haden is the first in the ring. While it's certain he already has a short list of favorite candidates that probably is not unlike the lists every publication has written up since Kiffin was fired, he also can sit back a few weeks and get a measure of who's interested. There will be plenty of back-channel feelers from agents of NFL head coaches and assistant coaches as well as college head coaches and assistant coaches.

A successful precedent for Haden to consider is Arizona athletic director Greg Byrne's handling of the transition from Mike Stoops to Rich Rodriguez. Just like Haden, Byrne fired Stoops midseason after an embarrassing loss before a bye week and installed a veteran coach, Tim Kish, as his interim head coach. He then conducted a stealth coaching search over the next six weeks, breaking the news of his hiring of Rodriguez on Twitter.

Byrne gave himself a head start with the hiring process. He got his first choice hired before the season ended and gave his new coach a head start with recruiting. He also accelerated the getting-to-know-you phase compared to all the other teams looking for a new head coach in December. Byrne even received a boost from Kish's version of the Wildcats, who won three of their final six games, including a win over archrival Arizona State.

Other Pac-12 coaches are now fretting the same thing happening with the Trojans: What if USC suddenly starts playing inspired football under interim coach Ed Orgeron? It's entirely possible the Trojans will be a better team going forward, meaning the Sun Devils are grateful Haden didn't take action after the Trojans lost at home to Washington State on Sept. 7.

As for Haden's coaching search, it will be a bit more high-profile than Byrne's. The Trojans are a national team. So in the next few weeks there will be a cacophony of public denials. They will be meaningless. Saban repeatedly said without ambiguity that he wasn't leaving the Miami Dolphins for Alabama. Until he did. And who knew that Bret Bielema was so eager to bolt Wisconsin for Arkansas?

The two biggest problems the USC coaching search encountered after Carroll bolted for the Seattle Seahawks that led to the Kiffin hiring are gone: (1) upcoming NCAA sanctions, and (2) no one wanting to be the guy-after-the-guy.

So know that just about everybody is in play. Until they're not.

The Pac-12 and the college football nation didn't feel too good about Kiffin in 2011, when he led the Trojans to a 10-2 record and won at Oregon and Notre Dame. But in the past 18 games, they embraced his USC tenure. They wanted him inside Heritage Hall as long as possible.

Now there is worrisome uncertainty among 11 other Pac-12 teams, not to mention folks like SEC commissioner Mike Slive and Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany. If Haden hires the right guy, the Trojan colossus will dust itself off and rise with a cocky grin. Rose Bowls and national championships will shortly follow.
TUCSON, Ariz. -- Mike Stoops played Oklahoma State twice in just over a year while he was Arizona's coach. The Cowboys thumped the Wildcats in the Alamo Bowl at the end of a 2010 season that started fast and finished terribly. And they thumped Stoops at the beginning of a 2011 season that started terribly and got him fired.

So Oklahoma State is a part of the reason Rich Rodriguez took over in Tucson. And he can make a statement about why he's the right guy to turn the program around by at least improving upon a pair of blowout defeats tonight in Arizona Stadium.

Heck, maybe he can even notch an upset?

The Cowboys, though ranked 18th, don't appear to be as good as the crew that rolled over the two previous versions of the Wildcats. They've lost quarterback Brandon Weeden and wide receiver Justin Blackmon and welcome back just 12 starters. Their new QB is freshman Wes Lunt, who is making his first road start and probably didn't learn much about college football in the opener against woeful Savannah State.

Arizona opened with an overtime victory over Toledo. The Wildcats piled up 624 total yards, senior QB Matt Scott played well and the dubious defense was slightly better than many feared. General sloppiness made the game close.

The Wildcats will have to clean things up to have any shot tonight.

The key for the Wildcats will be stopping the run. If the Cowboys can run -- and running back Joseph Randle is very good -- that will make things easy on Lunt. Arizona wants to force Oklahoma State to pass and hope Lunt makes rookie mistakes.

The odds, of course, are not good for the Wildcats. Arizona has lost 6 consecutive games against top-20 teams. Its last victory against a top-20 opponent came Sept. 18, 2010, against ninth-ranked Iowa. This team has plenty of talent issues, particularly its front seven on defense. And Oklahoma State is closing in on becoming one of those programs that reloads instead of rebuilds.

But Rodriguez could quickly establish why he's been brought aboard if the Wildcats post a strong performance.
TUCSON, Ariz. -- We're going to be charitable. We will merely call Arizona's 2011 defense awful and opine that it offered little to no resistance to opposing offenses. We won't try to be colorful or mocking. We will only further note that it wouldn't be surprising if the collective secretly wanted to conduct postgame interviews in French.

It's not just the big picture -- 460.5 yards per game, worst in the Pac-12, and 35.4 points per game, 107th in the nation. It's the details, such as surrendering 6.6 yards per play. Only five teams in the nation were worse. Or permitting opposing passers to complete 66 percent of their throws, another worst in the conference. Or grabbing 16 turnovers, second fewest in the conference. Or recording 10 sacks the entire season, which ranked 116th in the nation and, apparently, was the worst sack total in team history.

In the spring of 2011, before this defensive ugliness occurred, former coach Mike Stoops told the Pac-12 blog that his two best defensive players were linebacker Jake Fischer -- "heart and soul of our defense," Stoops said -- and cornerback Jonathan McKnight -- "our best cover guy," Stoops said.

So, yes, when both blew out their knees in advance of the season, it was not unreasonable to see this coming, at least some of it.

It is easy to look at the Wildcats' defense heading into 2012 and see plenty of "Uh, oh." While seven starters are back, there are far more questions than answers, particularly with the front seven. Oh, and there's a new, 3-3-5 scheme to learn.

Expect some growing pains. New coach Rich Rodriguez certainly seems to.

"I wish I could be more definitive," Rodriguez said when asked about his depth chart up front Wednesday. "It's such a fluid situation. We have a lot of 'ors' and 'ifs' on the defensive line. We've got enough bodies, though."

But if you want to pitch this thing forward in a positive way, the story would go like this: 1. McKnight and Fisher are both back and ready to start against Toledo on Sept. 1; 2. A 3-3-5 scheme plays into the Wildcats' strength -- the secondary; 3. The move of 6-foot-3, 221-pound Marquis Flowers from safety to linebacker might end up proving to be inspired; 4. As might the dual role of 260-pound fullback Taimi Tutogi doubling as a pass-rush specialist.

While Rodriguez is from the Lou Holtz school of talking to the media -- pooh pooh your talent, be colorful, reveal almost nothing -- the Wildcats players believe the defense will surprise some folks. After a couple of scrimmages in which they were dominated by the offense, they say the defense has been stepping up.

"The chemistry is coming along well, everybody is coming together and trusting one another," McKnight said.

McKnight, the brother of former USC running back Joe McKnight, is a good place to start. If he stays healthy, he could become one of the conference's best cover men.

"Nobody is going to throw at him," center Kyle Quinn said. "He's a lockdown guy."

Quinn also said the new scheme is creative at creating pressure, and aggressive at creating turnovers.

"They can make plays," he said. "They are a big-play defense."

That might be where the Wildcats' defense grabs hold. It won't be able to dominate up front. But if the sack and turnover numbers go up, the unit might be able to provide at least reasonably solid support for what could be an explosive offense.

And going from awful to decent could get this team to a bowl game.

Pac-12 links: Leach shoots a Bear (really)

May, 18, 2012
Happy Friday.

Under the radar: Arizona

May, 11, 2012
We conclude our under the radar series.

The idea is to pick out a player who is not a big name, but who might be underrated. Or, at least, a guy who will need to step up and play a crucial role in 2012.

We've gone in reverse alphabetical order.

Arizona: CB Jonathan McKnight

2011 production: McKnight missed the season with a knee injury.

Making the case for McKnight: Back during 2011 spring practice, former Arizona coach Mike Stoops told me that McKnight was the Wildcats' best cover guy. He was stoked about McKnight's upside. Stoops, now back as Oklahoma's defensive coordinator, knows defensive backs, too. He played the position at Iowa and in the NFL and he's always coached it. Tim Kish, then Arizona defensive coordinator, said the same about McKnight. And when McKnight blew out his knee during fall camp, I imagined Stoops doing one of the angry dances that TV cameramen so loved to capture during games. I don't really know how good McKnight is because he mostly saw spot action as a true freshman in 2010. But I'm going to trust Stoops and Kish. The 5-foot-11, 175 pounder out of River Ridge, La., and younger brother of former USC running back Joe McKnight, could become an emerging star this fall if he stays healthy and lives up to the words of his former coaches. He was 80 percent this spring but should be 100 percent this summer, with plenty of time to get his conditioning -- and confidence in his knee -- back to where it needs to be. If McKnight is healthy, don't be surprised if, at season's end, he ends up on the All-Pac-12 team.

Rodriguez: Wildcats weak but not worthless

March, 1, 2012
TUCSON, Ariz. -- Mike Stoops was fired as Arizona's coach on Oct. 9. It appears that many of his players decided at that point to take a vacation, most notably from conditioning and weight-room work.

At least, that's new coach Rich Rodriguez's initial impression. He likes his players' enthusiasm. He sees some intriguing talent. But he's not really happy with the Wildcats' overall conditioning.

"We've got to get a whole lot faster and a whole lot stronger," he said during a news conference Thursday in advance of the first day of spring practices Monday.

Rodriguez fretted that his team was "weak, really weak."

[+] EnlargeRich Rodriguez
AP Photo/ Arizona Daily Star/Benjie SandersRich Rodriguez already has had to deal with a lack of fitness as well as immaturity from his Arizona players.
Weak is not good, and how fast it transforms into adequately strong will be a part of the primary focus this spring: Evaluation. Yes, the Wildcats need to learn Rodriguez's spread-option system -- offensive coordinator Calvin Magee laughed at a reporter trying to get him to give the scheme a name -- and defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel's 3-3-5, but the ultimate goal for the new coaches is figuring out what sort of talent they have and how to best use it.

In terms of executing scheme, things might be a bit ugly in the early going, starting with getting accustomed to an increased pace. Rodriguez's offense is not unlike Chip Kelly's at Oregon. Neither is a fan of the huddle. (And, by the way, new Arizona State coach Todd Graham is the same way.)

"The first spring is always the ugliest," Rodriguez said.

Rodriguez's admittedly superficial take Thursday was interesting, as areas that seemed questionable -- running back, receiver and the defensive front seven -- he rated as "OK," while he questioned the offensive line and secondary, which on paper look fairly solid. While the line welcomes back five starters, Rodriguez said, "I don't know how athletic we are." He called a secondary that welcomes back several talented, experienced players "a concern."

"There are a lot more questions than answers," he said. "Hopefully, I will have some pleasant surprises once we start."

One mostly known quantity is QB Matt Scott. Scott, a senior, redshirted last year, but he's seen plenty of action, including a pair of impressive starts in 2010 in relief of an injured Nick Foles. While Rodriguez is not typically a believer in protecting his QBs with yellow no-contact jerseys, the fact that Scott is the only scholarship QB on the roster is forcing his hand.

Still, it's also clear that Rodriguez doesn't want Scott to feel too comfortable, even though his winning the starting job is a near-certainty.

"He's like me; he sat out last year," Rodriguez said. "I think he's hungry. I'd like to get him some competition."

That competition this spring will be provided by junior Richard Morrison, who was signed as a QB, converted to receiver -- he's caught 41 passes over the past two seasons -- and now moves back behind center.

Ultimately, Rodriguez mostly wants to put together a rough outline of something that is uncertain at present.

"We don't have a depth chart," he said.

Some notes:
  • News on the injury front, which was a huge reason the Wildcats defense was lousy in 2011, is pretty good. LB Jake Fischer, safety Adam Hall, defensive tackle Willie Mobley and running back Greg Nwoko range from full-go to practically full-go. CB Jonathan McKnight, the Wildcats' best cover corner before blowing out his knee, will be limited. OT Mickey Baucus (back) and his brother, Jack (knee), also an offensive lineman, will be limited.
  • Sophomore defensive linemen Sani Fuimaono and Aiulua Fanene are on two-year church missions. Fuimaono started two games last year and had seven tackles. Fanene started one and had eight.
  • The Wildcats will hold a scrimmage in the Phoenix area on March 24. The spring game is scheduled for April 14 and will be played off campus due to construction on a new football facility. The site for both scrimmages is not yet official.
  • Rodriguez said his family arrived permanently in Tucson on Wednesday but he has yet to settle into a home.

Four new coaches highlight Pac-12 spring

February, 23, 2012
Oregon coach Chip Kelly was baffled in a phone interview before the Rose Bowl. How the heck could little-old-him be important to a reporter?

"The big story," he said conspiratorially,"is all these new coaches."

Well, it's the big story now as the Pac-12 turns its attention away from the 2011 season and toward 2012 spring practices. And, of course, Kelly is part of a reason there are four new coaches in the conference. Mike Stoops, Dennis Erickson, Rick Neuheisel and Paul Wulff -- fired at Arizona, Arizona State, UCLA and Washington State, respectively -- never beat Kelly and, in fact, came within double digits of his Ducks only once (Arizona, with a 44-41 loss in 2009).

But the story isn't just four new coaches. It's four new coaches whom folks have heard of, each of whom is getting a big-boy salary that would fit in among the SEC or Big Ten. Big salaries are the new normal in the Pac-12 after the conference signed a $3 billion TV deal with ESPN and Fox.

[+] EnlargeMike Leach
Karl Anderson/Icon SMIWashington State went from paying Paul Wulff a $600,000 salary to paying new coach Mike Leach $2,250,000.
So out goes Stoops and his $1,456,000 salary, and in comes Rich Rodriguez and his $1,910,000 paycheck. Out goes Erickson and his $1,503,000 salary, and in comes Todd Graham and his $2 million tab. Out goes Neuheisel and his $1,285,000 salary, and in comes Jim Mora and his $2.4 million annual take. Out goes Wulff and his $600,000 salary, and in comes Mike Leach and his $2,250,000 price tag.

The chief idea is obvious: Pac-12 schools are paying for an upgrade in coaching talent, and there are high expectations for getting their money's worth. And, by the way, there's an added bonus for each hire: Each new coach has a chip on his shoulder and something to prove.
  • In 2010, Rodriguez was ingloriously dispatched at Michigan after three tumultuous and unsuccessful years. Athletic director Greg Byrne is betting that Rodriguez is far closer to the highly successful coach he was at West Virginia than the one who got run out of Ann Arbor, and Rodriguez surely wants that impression to be his legacy. It helps that he got his man, Jeff Casteel, to run the Wildcats' defense, which he failed to do at Michigan.
  • Graham took a lot of heat from a pandering, sanctimonious media and a whiny Pittsburgh fan base for how he left the Panthers. "He didn't even say goodbye," they collectively sobbed. "Waaah." Of course, Graham does have an unfortunate habit of describing every job as his "dream job." All that stuff is mostly hogwash, though. What matters is winning, and if Graham does that, the media will all come down en masse to Tempe pretending they didn't trash Graham's character for taking a better job, in a better conference, in a better place to live while making his family happy in the process.
  • Mora was fired in 2009 after only one season with the Seattle Seahawks, and he's bided his time looking for another head-coaching job. Seeing that he was two or three names down UCLA athletic director Dan Guerrero's coaching list -- Chris Petersen! Kevin Sumlin! -- some Bruins fans reacted with disappointed smirks to Mora's hiring. Then Mora hired an outstanding staff. Then he reeled in an outstanding recruiting class. Some of those frowns are turning upside down.
  • Leach was fired at Texas Tech in 2009. He's one of the best offensive minds in the nation, and the almost universal reaction is athletic director Bill Moos hit a home run with this big-name hire. The Pirate Captain looks like the perfect match for Pullman and the Cougs, and he'll be plenty motivated to prove his critics wrong and erase the bad ending in Lubbock.

It's fair to say these four hirings have generated positive momentum for these programs, though, of course, to varying degrees. There's a hope among the fan bases that these four can create quick turnarounds.

And that also leads into another major coaching story entering the spring: The Pac-12's most senior coaches, California's Jeff Tedford and Oregon State's Mike Riley, sit on the hottest seats.

Tedford enters his 11th season in Berkeley having followed up his first losing campaign -- 5-7 in 2010 -- with a middling 7-6 finish in 2011. Riley, the man deserving the most credit for making one of the worst programs in college football respectable, enters his 12th year in Corvallis -- two tenures wrapped around an ill-fated stint with the San Diego Chargers -- burdened by consecutive losing seasons, including a 3-9 finish that felt so 1987.

Spring practices for Tedford and Riley will be about setting up turnaround season that give their frustrated fan bases hope -- and keep their athletic directors from issuing dreaded votes of confidence while checking their coaching Rolodexes.

Meanwhile, Kelly and USC's Lane Kiffin, still relative coaching newbies in the conference, enter spring likely trying to tone down the positive hype. Both will begin the 2012 season ranked in the top 10. USC could be preseason No. 1. Both are overwhelming favorites in the North and South Divisions. And their meeting on Nov. 3 in L.A. could have national title implications.

But that's looking ahead.

The big story this spring in the Pac-12 is newness and rebirth. One-third of the conference's teams hope that newness at the top of their programs will create a rebirth in the Pac-12 standings.

Lunch links: Mora, Graham recruiting praise

February, 8, 2012
Writing is hard — it's a form of punishment in schools, and rightly so — and so I stood paralyzed before all the different ways this simple message might be put.
NORMAN, Okla. — Last week, Oklahoma lost an assistant reputed for being a top-notch recruiter. The Sooners, however, are replacing him with a coach with the same reputation.

Former Arizona defensive coordinator Tim Kish is expected to be named OU’s next linebackers coach, sources have confirmed to SoonerNation. Kish, 57, will take over for ex-OU defensive coordinator Brent Venables, who last week accepted a job to be defensive coordinator at Clemson.

Kish worked with Sooners defensive coordinator Mike Stoops all eight years that Stoops was head coach in Arizona, first as a linebackers coach, then taking over as the primary defensive coordinator before the 2011 season. When Stoops was fired after a 1-5 start, Kish was named interim head coach and guided the Wildcats to a 3-3 finish.

Kish has been in coaching for more than 30 years, with stints in the Big Ten, MAC and Ohio high school ranks. He has been one of Arizona’s top recruiters, focusing primarily on the California area, where the Sooners have made inroads in recent years. In this upcoming class, OU has secured verbal commitments from wide receiver Derrick Woods (Inglewood, Calif.) and tight end Taylor McNamara (San Diego).

Rating the Pac-12 coaching hires

January, 18, 2012
Sports Illustrated's Stewart Mandel rated the coaching hires across the country this week, and he's clearly split on how the Pac-12 did.

He likes Mike Leach to Washington State — a lot — and Rich Rodriguez to Arizona. He's not so impressed with Todd Graham to Arizona State and Jim Mora to UCLA.

Here are his Pac-12 grades and takes.
Washington State (Mike Leach, former Texas Tech head coach): A+

AD Bill Moos looked past the controversy surrounding Leach's bizarre 2009 ouster in Lubbock and focused more on his 84-43 record and 10 straight bowl trips. The quirky offensive mind is a perfect fit in remote Pullman and already has the quarterbacks (rising senior Jeff Tuel and sophomore Connor Halliday) he needs to lead the dormant Cougars to their first postseason berth in nine years.

Arizona (Rich Rodriguez, former Michigan head coach): A-

AD Greg Byrne knew exactly who he wanted, pouncing early (Nov. 21) in naming Mike Stoops' replacement. While Rodriguez's three-year tenure in Ann Arbor did not end well, the pressure is much lower in tradition-starved Tucson. He's reunited the majority of his staff from West Virginia, where he led the Mountaineers to two BCS bowls. Arizona is still waiting on its first.

UCLA (Jim L. Mora, former Seattle Seahawks head coach): D

After striking out with Chris Petersen, Al Golden and Sumlin, AD Dan Guerrero turned to an unemployed NFL lifer. Mora has assembled a nice staff and will likely make initial waves in recruiting, but history does not bode well for NFL-bred coaches. UCLA hopes Mora will become its Pete Carroll, but odds are much higher he emulates Bill Callahan, Charlie Weis, Chan Gailey, Mike Sherman ...

Arizona State (Todd Graham, Pittsburgh head coach): D

Forget the unseemly way he exited Pitt. Why exactly Graham is a hot commodity to begin with? It's certainly not due to his one 6-6 Big East season. He had three 10-win seasons at Tulsa, but much of the credit belongs to respected offensive coordinators Gus Malzahn and Chad Morris. His one season without either, he went 5-7. But perhaps his fourth dream job in six years will be the one.

These divergent grades shouldn't be surprising. Just about everyone — yes, there is always some contrarian wackiness — believes Washington State and Arizona made great hires. And both Mora and Graham have baggage.

A lot of rating a coaching hire is about process: Did the AD get his or her first choice? Washington State and Arizona appeared to do just that and UCLA and Arizona State didn't. The lesson, taught over and over and over again, is that ADs always need to have a solid list of coaching candidates and Plan Bs in their desk drawer, and they need to move proactively and aggressively from the moment they decide to fire their coach — even taking steps in advance of the pending termination.

And, most important, the fewer people involved in the process, the better. The best search committees are made up of one person — see ADs Greg Byrne at Arizona and Bill Moos at Washington State.

Mandel also looks at "Ten impact coordinators/assistants," and two from the Pac-12 make the list, as well as a former conference head coach and QB.
Jeff Casteel, Arizona (defense): Defense was the bane of Rodriguez's existence at Michigan. It was critical he reunite with his highly effective former West Virginia coordinator.

Mike Stoops, Oklahoma (defense): Bob's brother returns to Norman, where he produced some of the nation's most dominant units from 1999-2003. The Sooners needed him.

Tosh Lupoi, Washington (defensive line): Steve Sarkisian sent shock waves through the Pac-12 by luring away Cal's ace recruiter, considered the best on the West Coast.

Jonathan Smith, Boise State (quarterbacks): Petersen tabbed the former Oregon State standout and Montana offensive coordinator to help mold Kellen Moore's successor.

Arizona becomes WVU Southwest

January, 12, 2012
The first thing someone needs to buy Rich Rodriguez's staff at Arizona? A road map. And maybe some green plants to ease their acclimation to desert life.

[+] EnlargeRich Rodriguez
Chris Morrison/US PresswireWith his hiring done, new Arizona head coach Rich Rodriguez, left, and his coaching staff can focus on adjusting to life in the Pac-12.
Rodriguez completed his staff hires Wednesday, finally announcing that he'd lured Jeff Casteel away from West Virginia, as well as two other Mountaineers defensive coaches: David Lockwood (defensive backs) and Bill Kirelawich (defensive line). He also hired Spencer Leftwich (tight ends), who was at Pittsburgh this past season.

This is a good -- and proven -- staff. Casteel's 3-3-5 defense seems a perfect fit for the Pac-12, and Rodriguez seems to have gotten all the guys he wanted. If you know the backstory, that didn't happen at Michigan, and more than a few folks will tell you that's a major reason why things didn't work out.

My single critique: It's too bad Rodriguez couldn't find a way to retain Tim Kish, a respected defensive coach who did a good job holding the Wildcats together as interim coach after Mike Stoops was fired.

If Rodriguez had retained Kish, then he would have taken pressure off offensive line coach Robert Anae, Rodriguez's only assistant with any substantial West Coast experience. None of the new coaches even visited Tucson during the interview process, according to the Arizona Daily Star. Going forward, when these new coaches need to know, say, where San Diego is or whether Portland is north or south of Seattle, the only guy who will know the answers without taking out a map is Anae.

We kid, of course. But Rodriguez did take a specific route when hiring his staff: He hired his guys and didn't worry about their regional experience or about preserving much continuity with the previous staff.

Wait that's not completely fair. Casteel did graduate and get a master's degree from California University. That it was in Pennsylvania and not Berkeley, we will overlook.

You can read the staff bios here. You will see a lot of West Virginia, Pittsburgh, Michigan as well as some Louisiana, Indiana and Florida. Oh, there's a smattering of UNLV, UTEP and New Mexico State, but the Pac-12 experience is about zero.

That will, at least in the short term, lead to challenges. Recruiting is about relationships, and those will need to be built up, particularly with West Coast high school coaches. Further, there will be a lack of familiarity in conference play. Stoops told me before his second season that the quality of quarterback play and the top-to-bottom sophistication of conference offenses was a shock to his Big 12 sensibilities. It all felt like rumors and hype, then he started to watch film and game plan.

No offense to the Big East, but Casteel didn't see many Carson Palmers, Aaron Rodgerses, Andrew Lucks or Matt Barkleys during his 11 years at West Virginia. Quarterbacks who can put the ball wherever they want to create myriad challenges for a defense.

Further, there's the culture shock. Kirelawich (pronounced Kerr-LAV-itch) has been at West Virginia since 1979. Bill, let me be the first to say this: It's a dry heat. I've been to Morgantown just once -- a college road trip, one that went quite well I might add -- and from my vague memory it is nothing like Tucson. Nothing.

For example: Morgantown is called "Tree City USA." Tucson is not. Cactus? Tucson has plenty of those. Trees, not so much.

Good Mexican food, though. Gents, I recommend getting these guys to cater one of those long staff meetings.

Still, my guess is Rodriguez and his staff feel a sense of adventure and newness. The unfamiliarity might turn out to be invigorating. And the Pac-12 blog is firmly on record that a head coach needs to have complete faith in the members of his staff.

A significant part Rodriguez's backstory at Michigan -- an unquestioned failure -- was of constant undermining by a variety of forces. That won't be part of the story here.

Rodriguez got his men. Now all they have to do is lead Arizona to its first Rose Bowl.

Season grade: Arizona

January, 9, 2012
The 2011 season is over. That means report cards are due.

Up first: Arizona Wildcats

Offense: A team that averages 465 yards and just under 31 points per game should not go 4-8, but we'll get to that. Going into the season, it was clear that QB Nick Foles and the Wildcats' passing game would be the linchpin of a successful year. It also was clear looking at the roster that the defense was going to take a step back and the running game would struggle with five new starting offensive linemen. As it turned out, Foles and the passing game were the best part of the team, but they weren't good enough to carry the Wildcats to success — or save Mike Stoops' job, for that matter. It's hard for a football team to do only one thing well and win a lot of games. Foles and the Wildcats led the Pac-12 with 370 yards passing per game, but Foles threw 14 interceptions — second most in the conference — and the lack of a running game made the dink-and-dunk offense predictable.

Grade: B

Defense: The Wildcats were bad on defense by just about every measure. They ranked last in the Pac-12 in total defense (460.5 yards per game) and 11th in scoring (35.4 points per game). But here are two numbers that stand out: They had just 10 sacks — fewest in the conference by three — and forced just 16 turnovers, second fewest in the conference. Eight Pac-12 teams forced at least 20 turnovers. Opposing offenses made 63 visits to the Wildcats' redzone, which was most in the conference. They yielded 44 TDs on those trips. Senior CB Trevin Wade earned second-team All-Conference honors, but the only other Wildcats defender to earn even honorable mention was fellow DB Tra'Mayne Bondurant.

Grade: F

Overall: Much has been made of the 10-game FBS losing streak that ended Stoops' tenure in Tucson, but it needs to be emphasized that those 10 games, extending into the final five of 2010, were brutal, including Oklahoma State, Oregon, Stanford and USC two times apiece. In the preseason, it was clear that schedule would challenge the Wildcats. It did. And, as it turned out, the apparent weaknesses in August were just as they seemed: Weaknesses. When you toss in a handful of key injuries on an already questionable defense — LB Jake Fischer, S Adam Hall, CB Jonathan McKnight, DT Willie Mobley, etc. — you see the reality was a doomed season almost from the start. You could argue that this team, at 4-8, didn't really underachieve. And beating rival Arizona State prevents 2011 from being a total wash.

Grade: D

Pac-12 lunch links: Wynn healthy by spring

January, 9, 2012
I ain't like that no more. I ain't the same, Ned. Claudia, she straightened me up, cleared me of drinkin' whiskey and all. Just 'cause we're goin' on this killing, that don't mean I'm gonna go back to bein' the way I was. I just need the money, get a new start for them youngsters.

Lunch links: Stoops Bros. together again?

December, 31, 2011
Behave tonight. Mostly.

ASU after Utah's Whittingham?

December, 12, 2011
Is Arizona State trying to poach a fellow Pac-12 coach -- as in Utah's Kyle Whittingham? Maybe. The Sun Devils certainly could do worse. Whittingham, in our mind, is a top-20 coach without question.

Whittingham's contract pays him about $1.7 million a year. That's great money. But it's not top-20 coaching money. In fact, at present, it's only eighth in the Pac-12 money (we're assuming USC's Lane Kiffin makes between $3 and $4 million, based on various news reports on his undisclosed salary).

Here's the latest tally (chart at right), with now-ex-coaches included.

It appears Whittingham is due a raise and is headed to the $2 million per club.

Further, Kelly's number on top is a bit misleading. Last year, he signed a six-year, $20.5 million contract, which means his average salary is $3.4 million over the course of the contract.

The larger point is the new TV contract continues to impact coaching salaries in the Pac-12. Arizona State is trying to find a coach, and Whittingham -- whatever conference he coaches in -- offers potentially good value if he can be lured to town.

Utah is likely to take steps to prevent that, and Whittingham hasn't seemed terribly eager to bolt Salt Lake, considering he's been pursued by the likes of Washington and Tennessee in past years.

What's becoming clear though is there is money to spend and schools are having to spend it to lure top coaches.